Memorandum by Unison (LGA 41)
UNISON is pleased to make this short submission
to the Select Committee's inquiry into how the Local Government
Act 2000 is working. We are the largest trade union in local government,
representing some 850,000 members across the range of authorities
and occupations. Many of the issues arising from the changes to
political structures are of interest and concern to our members
in this sector.
We note that the Committee conducted a similar
inquiry last year although the timing of the general election
meant that it was unable to report. We submitted both written
and oral evidence to that inquiry and this submission restates
a number of the points we made then, although it obviously draws
on our experience over the last year.
We hope that the Committee's report will be
of assistance in identifying issues and aspects of good practice
which local authorities can draw upon in developing their ways
of working in response to the Act.
The development of new political management
structures is taking place against a backdrop of considerable
change in local government. Best Value has taken up time and energy
and local authorities are now preparing for their new Comprehensive
Performance Assessments. The most recent survey of our members
in local government, undertaken by NOP and published in June 2001
found that 39 per cent had experienced a major review in their
work area in the previous 12 months, 70 per cent felt that stress
levels had increased in the previous year, and 68 per cent had
considered leaving their job.
It is therefore important to note that changes
to political management arrangements are taking place in the context
of uncertainty which is leading to anxiety about the future. Not
surprisingly this presents some serious industrial relations challenges.
We therefore hope that the Committee will highlight the importance
of good local industrial relations machinery.
UNISON welcomed that new power for local authorities
to promote the social, economic and environmental well-being of
their area. The requirement to produce a Community Strategy means
that local authorities are well placed to provide coherence and
vision and to set an overall context for other public service
providers, for businesses and for the community and voluntary
sector in their area.
We have drawn attention to the importance of
local authorities as large-scale employers. Councils have an important
role to play in setting benchmarks and standards for other employers
in the area and, of course, all of these issues impact directly
on the local economy and social inclusion strategies. Likewise,
the authority's approach to procurement can have a significant
impact on the local economy. UNISON has provided ample evidence
that contracting out of services has led to the emergence of a
two-tier workforce with new staff paid at lower rates and having
poorer terms and conditions. We know from the experience of Compulsory
Competitive Tendering that these are issues which disproportionately
affect women and those from black and ethnic minority communities.
UNISON therefore believes that to give real
expression to the power to promote the economic, social and environmental
well-being councils need to pay full attention to their own role
in procurement and as employers.
We believe that the arrangements for local collective
bargaining need to be built into the heart of new models of political
management and we are concerned that this is being overlooked
in some instances. It is our firm view that these arrangements
cannot be left as an "add-on" to be thought about when
the rest of the process is complete. If this is the approach adopted
we believe that councils will pay the price of a breakdown in
communication and ineffective disputes resolution machinery.
Under the traditional system of political management
local authorities generally have bargaining arrangements in the
form of a local joint negotiating committee. These committees
traditionally reported to a personnel committee of the council.
This provided for a structure which involved trade unions, human
resource professionals and elected members. There was also a direct
link into the policy making of the council and a mechanism for
In UNISON's view it is important to maintain
both the link with the political direction of the council and
an effective joint machinery. It is important that the local forum
for collective bargaining does not just become a "talking
shop" but that it has the authority to make decisions which
will be acted upon. In our view it is important that the collective
bargaining machinery should be able to link directly to the cabinet
or executive arm of the council.
We also believe that there should be a cabinet
member with direct responsibility for human resource matters.
Clearly all those with executive functions will need to keep in
mind a personnel dimension of their responsibilities. There are
few decisions which a council might make which do not have an
impact on the workforce.
However, it is also important for there to be
an identifiable person with responsibility for the corporate and
strategic direction of human resource management. We hope that
these are principles which will be supported by the Select Committee.
The role of overview and scrutiny committees
is potentially one of the most important features of the new political
arrangements. We have advised our branches that they should consider
how they will relate to these committees in the various different
forms they are taking. We firmly believe that trade unions have
an important contribution to make and will add considerably to
the perspective of these committees.
As a minimum we believe that the local UNISON
branch should receive notice of the issues which an overview and
scrutiny committee will be considering. The trade unions should
also be copied in to relevant background material and papers which
are going to the committee. The likelihood that many of the issues
under discussion will have workforce implications means that it
will often be relevant for UNISON to submit evidence and even
to participate in committees.
UNISON held a seminar in May 2000 for our members
who are chief officers and senior managers in councils. The seminar
was addressed by Professor Steve Leach of De Montford University
and it provided an opportunity to explore a variety of the implications
of new political structures for this group of staff.
The discussion in the seminar demonstrated that
the issues involved can be complex. On the one hand there were
concerns expressed that an increasingly "hands on" role
by executive members, particularly paid, full-time executive members,
could undermine the professionalism and judgement of chief officers.
There were fears that this could harm career prospects and damage
On the other hand, there were concerns that
servicing a more streamlined cabinet system could lead to the
politicisation of chief officers' roles. It was felt that executive
members might want a far more explicitly political dimension to
the advice they were receiving. Attendance at overview and scrutiny
committees and requirements to give evidence could add to this
trend. Again, UNISON members were concerned about the impact on
career prospects and job security.
It seems clear that new political arrangements
will have an inevitable impact on the role of chief officers.
Quite how that will play out probably depends on the culture and
political character of the authority concerned. Our advice is
that councils should draw up protocols to set out in advance what
the expectations will be of chief officers and others involved
in advising and servicing committees. These protocols should be
reviewed and moderated as necessary on a regular basis, and in
the first instance every six months. We would like to see this
taken on board by the Select Committee as a recommendation.
UNISON trusts that the Select Committee will
look closely at the workforce implications of new political arrangements
in local councils for all the reasons we have set out above. We
hope that the Committee will give due weight to the importance
of ensuring that the workforce dimension is kept firmly in mind
when moving to new arrangements. We hope also that the Committee
will consider carefully the impact of new arrangements on chief
officers and those who service and advise committees.